Mutual learning without a formal program

Much has been documented about the benefits of developing a formal mentoring program – if carried out properly, these programs promote professional development, increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover in the workplace. The advantages are indisputable, but for many, the formality of instituting a mentoring program may not fit their agency’s culture, or it may simply be a matter of size. It’s all well and good to know that approximately 75% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs, but it’s hard to imagine how that would transport into an agency staffed with a handful of people.

Mentoring programs can go off the rails or simply fade away if the conditions are not right. They require an advocate to lead the program, usually the agency principal or an individual supported by the agency principal. Also, forcing a mentor/mentee relationship comes with some risk, and could require some effort if it’s necessary to undo a bad experience or relationship.

What if your agency could adopt a mentoring culture instead? More than mere lip service, a mentoring culture is one that is developed in a deliberate manner, but without the formal structure of a one-to-one matching. Imagine your agency as one where the entire team is sincerely invested in promoting a culture where junior talent is encouraged and supported at every opportunity.

Like the more formal program, a mentoring culture will start from the top, with leadership setting the tone and example for others to follow. Recognize when to manage and when to coach, and set expectations for others in your agency as to how and when to provide appropriate feedback and encouragement. Reinforce and reward behaviors you would like encouraged, from senior staff that is quick to teach or offer encouragement to the new hire who is putting themselves out there to ask questions and offer suggestions.

Agency owners can add some structure around the value of mentorship without the rigidity of a formal program by incorporating into employee performance evaluations. Holding mutual learning as an expectation at the same level of importance as output, attendance and other criteria will help ensure behavior is in alignment with your mentorship and coaching goals.

By embedding mentorship into your company culture, you open up participation to all, rather than an elite few. This creates an environment where everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.